Weekly Top Five: Woody Allen | Bleader

Weekly Top Five: Woody Allen

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Mahattan Murder Mystery
  • Manhattan Murder Mystery
Blue Jasmine, the latest work by Woody Allen, hit theaters this week, and Ben Sachs has a typically insightful review in the paper and online. As I'm writing this, I've yet to see the movie, but I share many of Sachs's views of Allen and his current output. The success of so much of his recent work relates to the strength of his cast, and I often find myself taken with a particular performance while disliking the film as a whole. For example, I loved Owen Wilson's turn as Allen's surrogate in Midnight in Paris—Wilson, an expert comedic actor in his own right, channels Allen's persona while simultaneously critiquing and reinventing it—but found the movie itself to be trite, essentially one giant game of bingo for people who can remember their 12th-grade English class.

My taste for Allen's work is generally contingent upon whichever mood the director happened to be in while making the film. The moral superiority he exhibits in films like Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, and others leaves me cold, so I generally prefer the rare works in which he operates outside of his immediate milieu, or when he isn't afraid to make himself the butt of the joke. (Of course, this means I generally prefer the films in which he doesn't play a major character, which doesn't leave me a whole lot of options!) You can catch my five favorite after the jump.

5. Husbands and Wives (1992) A strange deviation in style and tone, this drama is most notable for the way it charts Allen's onscreen romance with Mia Farrow alongside his actual romance with Farrow, which infamously dissolved not long after the film premiered. It features some of the best acting in any Allen movie, with exceptional turns from Juliette Lewis and Sydney Pollack.

4. Zelig (1983) Dave Kehr called this conceptual comedy a "gray little nothing of a movie," which is probably the most derisive dismissal on record. Suffice it to say, I disagree with Kehr's take. It's by no means a major film, but it strikes me as one of Allen's most creative and energetic works, a deceptively clever metacommentary on the intersections of history, media, and entertainment.

3. Take the Money and Run (1968) A good example of when Allen wasn't afraid to be self-deprecating. Essentially nothing more than a loosely assembled comedic vignettes, the film is modest in vision but expertly executed, not to mention frequently hysterical. It's proof that Allen's skills as a filmmaker always lay in the absurd rather than the "profound."

2. Match Point (2005) A nifty and genuinely thrilling genre exercise, and by far the best film of his most recent period. Unlike Crimes and Misdemeanors, which is this film's closest analog, Allen evinces a genuine fascination with themes of greed, lust, and morality rather than merely resorting to smug observations about greed, lust, and morality. He was rarely this good before and hasn't even come close since.

1. Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993) More or less a "straight-ahead entertainment," as Jonathan Rosenbaum asserts, but all the better for it. Allen's use of nostalgia is surprisingly endearing and affecting, never mind the hokey concept. And beneath the bouncy exterior, Allen provides an interesting, even somewhat disturbing subtext about human curiosity and fetishization—not exactly Hitchcockian, but perhaps the closest he ever got.

Drew Hunt writes film-related top five lists every Sunday.

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